By Samantha Chapnick
You can get thrills on an Orlando vacation outside the theme parks. As the self-proclaimed "skydiving capital of the world," the city has plenty to offer adrenaline junkies of all ages.
Whenever I need an adrenaline fix, I just tell my cabbie I’m late. The white knuckle ride through Manhattan cures me of any need to jump out of planes or off bridges attached to a big rubber band.
But hey, that’s me.
So what was I doing free falling and braving 180 mph winds?
Testing out skydiving in a risk-free way at the Skyventure vertical wind tunnel.
When I read the mandatory waiver, it didn’t seem all that risk free, but Mike — my kind, patient and very experienced instructor — put most of my fears to rest.
“I’ve only had one person get sucked into the fan, but don’t worry its fixed now.” Fortunately, he was joking.
My “partner” was an 11-year-old self-professed extreme pogo-sticker sure tocost his parents considerable time in the hospital. All he wanted to know was when he could join the military and if he could do flips in the tunnel. Apparently, kids as young as 3 are welcome, and there is a 5-year-old girl who visits every week.
After suiting up in overalls especially designed to capture the wind, goggles, ear plugs, knee and elbow pads and a helmet, we got a brief lesson on hand signals. When legs are out straight, I’ll ascend, with legs bent, descend. And don’t look down.
It was surprising how quickly I forgot even those three simple concepts once in the tunnel. At first, the noise is so loud and sensation is so new, fear was all I felt. Unlike that scene in Willy Wonka, in which Charlie and his grandpa slowly ascend after drinking the bubbles, this is an aggressive, unforgiving wind that blows you against the glass, down to the wire mesh, and up higher. My partner was level headed and followed all the instructor’s signs perfectly.
On my first round, I did everything too fast or too slow or just not at all. I had newfound sympathy for ladybugs caught in a hurricane. Of course, Mike was right there with me to keep me safe.
They’ve planned for this. Each person does three rounds of one minute each. Allowing a chance to recover and relax. By my last “ride” I was more composed and Mike took over, flying tandem so to speak.
This was when the fun began and I glimpsed why people risk faulty parachutes and other skydiving side effects.
For a few seconds, everything recedes. The mind becomes completely blank and the body is simply an object moved by forces completely beyond your control. Some have compared it to being a bird. I imagined it was more like being a fish because of the weightlessness nothing but water offers. Either way, it’s addictive.
Some meditate for years to achieve this level of consciousness. I’ll keep indoor skydiving.
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Samantha Chapnick travels the globe with her family, exploring life outside her home in New York City.